Men, the popular account of evolution tells us, are rampantly heterosexual skirt chasers. (Anyone who’s gay serves, at best, as evidence of the supposedly nonadaptive delights in which some humans indulge and, at worst, as evidence of what is unnatural and therefore immoral.) This understanding of male sexuality helps fuel a culture Michael Kimmel recently labeled “guyland,” the life stage and social space in which teenage and twenty-something men cultivate a rude-dude attitude, resenting anything intellectual, politically correct, or smacking of either responsibility or women’s authority. What better than the caveman narrative to help these guys avoiding the demands of adult life define themselves as, nevertheless, real men?
Learning evolution’s significance for male sexuality can enable men to rationalize sexist double standards and wallow in their loutishness, as they do in guyland. Alternatively, it can serve to encourage men to control their caveman natures by becoming self-conscious, enlightened cavemen. But either way, the popular versions of man-as-caveman never question men’s putatively natural shortcomings or innate aggressive heterosexuality. The caveman is certainly not the only form of masculine identity in our times. But the emergence of a caveman masculinity tells us much about the authority of science, the flow of scientific ideas in our culture, and the embodiment of those ideas. We live in a culture attached to scientific authority and explication. The popularity of the scientific story of men’s evolved desires — however distorted the science becomes as enthusiasts popularize it — can tell us something about the appeal and influence of that story.